Archive for the ‘Chimp histories’ Category

Space and time

Monday, September 11th, 2017

Initially, Annie had no use for her party yesterday. While everyone else partied in the greenhouse Annie promptly bypassed the indoor festivities and ventured outside to Young’s Hill all on her own. She took her time foraging and scooped up most of everything that was out there, enjoying it all at her own pace. It was amazing to watch her sitting out there enjoying her celebration in peace and solitude.

If you’ve been following the blog for awhile you may know that Annie hasn’t always been so comfortable in her own skin. I think of all the chimps, her change over the last nine years in sanctuary is one of the most apparent. I still remember so clearly the early days after the chimps gained access to their outdoor enclosure and one day I watched Annie, sitting in the raceway to the hill wanting so badly to be with her best friend Missy who was zipping and zooming around out there with ease. Annie’s eyes were glued to Missy as she rocked with anxiety awaiting her return to the greenhouse.

It was heart wrenching to watch those moments. But of course, we trusted that Annie would find the courage to move forward in her own space and time. That’s one of the most beautiful things about sanctuary. Space and time. Space and time for each of the chimps to heal. Space and time for each of their battered souls to come back to them and explore, learn and remember who they are. After nine years in sanctuary, each of the chimps continue to surprise us every single day with their brave, daring, curious, creative, intelligent and beautiful selves.

What a gift that is. For all of us who have the privilege to watch them, and most importantly, for each of the chimps who with each passing day/week/month/year get to celebrate being their own person. However that looks.

Annie feet:

Bonus Negra photo from the party because, well, that face!:

Queen Negra

Thursday, August 24th, 2017

Negra spent 30 years in laboratories, being poked and prodded in the name of research. In 1986, during her 13th year in a lab cage, it was suspected that Negra had some kind of contagious disease, so she was placed in isolation – possibly the worst thing you can do to a social animal. Here is the note in her record from that time:

3/31/86 – Dr. ordered animal removed from main colony and placed in isolation for further testing.

It’s unclear why, but it took almost two years for the lab technicians to realize, after extensive testing, that they had isolated Negra for no reason. In 1988 she was returned to her regular cage.

1/14/88 – Enter cage #28 by herself. Home again.

It’s possible that this was the low point in Negra’s life in the lab, but even the “good” days were filled with needles, dart guns, fear, and loneliness. Twenty years after Negra was returned to her “home” cage post-isolation, she finally moved to Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest.

You might think that the life Negra experienced in the lab would make for a timid, docile individual. But Negra is anything but docile. We call her “the Queen” of the sanctuary, because she is regal and imperious. When Negra wants something, you’d better not stand in her way. She’s cranky, self-assured, and determined. Negra is strong.

Perhaps equally surprising, given her history, is that Negra has not written off humans. Though she will let you know when you’ve disappointed her, she does not hold grudges. And even though she has every reason to hate and fear our species, she gives out kisses freely.

May we all strive to be Negra.

For Jody and all the mamas

Sunday, May 14th, 2017

The weekend of celebrations continues in the chimp house today as we celebrate not only Mother’s Day, but beloved Jody, on her 42nd honorary birthday!

I was in my gracious neighbor’s magical backyard bright and early this morning, heisting two armfuls of lilacs. Many of the chimps enjoy smelling and eating them and even now, late in the day, the scent of fresh lilac occasionally is wafts through their home.

We started the celebration off with a beautiful breakfast forage of raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, cherry tomatoes, pineapple, watermelon, and baby bananas on a bed of lettuce, strawberry and banana smoothie, and more sparkling cider.

The greenhouse was bright and sunny as we set up the party. Pineapple tops are a favorite of the birthday girl so we hoped Jody would find this pokey treat:

And she did:

Nothing says party like shoving an entire pokey pineapple top in your mouth:

Dora had a gift for someone:

Foxie gazing at Dora while enjoying her fresh lilacs and melting my heart into a big ol’ puddle:

Annie enjoying a party plate:

For Jamie, parties are even (or maybe I should say especially) serious business. She was methodically looking for her favorites and keeping a watchful eye on the three pinatas hanging from the ceiling until she could get to them. Jamie loves a challenge so this was her kind of party:

The lilacs are quite popular with a few of the girls and Annie was doing her best to collect some on the sly while avoiding the eyes of the more dominant Missy and Jamie and she collected quite a few:

Gorgeous Missy enjoying a treat box:

Burrito was a wild man all morning long. Riling up the girls, rattling the caging, displaying throughout the chimp house. Pretty much normal stuff, but with an extra dash of wild today. But he did find time to settle down and enjoy the company of his friends on their special day and even went to Annie’s defense to reassure her when she got yelled at for picking the “wrong” lilac:

Burrito and Foxie:

And then there’s Negra, who ended the celebration by collecting all the lilacs she could and winding up with a beautiful bouquet:

Mother’s Day is a special day at the sanctuary. If you’re new to the blog and just learning about the chimps, we only know that Jody was most likely born in the wild sometime in 1975. We chose this day to celebrate Jody in honor of the nine infants she gave birth to, but who were stolen from her during her time in biomedical research. With the exception of Jamie and Burrito, all of the chimps residing here had children and were denied the right to raise them. So today, with full hearts, we honor each of the chimps, their loss of their own mothers, and their children who lost the opportunity to grow up with their amazing mothers. You can learn more about each of their stories here.

Mother’s Day can feel like a bittersweet celebration here at times. But what I am finding is that with each passing year, as we’re astounded and privileged to witness the strength, healing and resiliency of these amazing beings, the pain of knowing the horror they endured for so long starts to fade into the shadows, eclipsed by the incredible light of each of these special souls. While we will always honor all they’ve been through, it’s really become about celebrating all they’ve overcome as unique individuals, the hope and joy they embrace each day with, and the family you’ve made possible for them to have. I hope with all my heart that they feel the same.

Happy Birthday, beautiful Jody!! We love you so very much!! And Happy Mother’s Day to all the mamas out there! And I really think that’s all of us in some shape or form. 🙂


From blue cement floors below, to blue skies above

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

Just over eight years ago, the Cle Elum 7 were living in the windowless basement of the Buckshire Corporation in Pennsylvania. Their entire world consisted of four attached 6×6 cages.

Here’s a little perspective on just exactly what that meant for the chimpanzees:

Take a moment and imagine only being able to climb as high as that cage ceiling or walk as far as the beginning of one wall to the end of the other. It’s truly inconceivable.

A huge part of sanctuary means providing a new multidimensional expansive world for the chimpanzees to enjoy.

When Missy climbed to to the tallest structure on Young’s Hill this morning, she was around 20 feet in the air with an unimpeded view of a lush green valley and rolling mountains. The sun could warm her back and the breeze could tickle her skin. She had 2 acres of grassy hill to run and play on, with several comfortable indoor areas to nap and groom in.







What a difference 8 years can make.

Tiny chimp, big world

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

We tend to equate mothers with maternity. But whether or not we find ourselves in the position of mothering children, I believe we are all mothers in some form, at some point. Maybe it’s mothering our animal friends, loved ones and family, ourselves, our plants, or even a creative project we’ve put our hearts into. It’s that innate sense we have to nurture, protect and care for someone or something we hold dear, or sometimes just a compassion and empathy that comes from witnessing a fellow being just trying to get through life the same as we are.

If you’re new to the blog or the chimps’ histories you may not be aware that Annie, Missy, Negra, Jody and Foxie were all used as “breeders” during their time in biomedical research. Each of them was forced to have child after child only to have their babies stolen from them shortly after birth, destined to a future as horrid as their parents. (To our knowledge Jamie has never had any children). You can learn more about the chimps’ histories on our Eyes on Apes page.

Foxie is mother to four children. Two daughters, Angie (who thankfully resides at Save the Chimps in Florida, and Kelsey (who resides at Alamogordo Primate Facility), and a rare set of twin sons, David and Steve (who are sadly both deceased now).

Foxie is rarely without at least one of her troll or Dora dolls and appears to have a tendency to carry two at a time. Maybe when Foxie chooses to carry two dolls at a time she can’t decide between favored dolls, perhaps two are the most she can comfortably carry, or it’s another reason I can’t possibly imagine. We can never say with certainty what the chimps are thinking, but I often wonder if it’s indicative of memories of her twins.

After breakfast yesterday the chimps headed out onto Young’s Hill and Foxie and her two Doras du jour headed off to explore on their own.





Walking along the perimeter with Jamie, as we got to the top of the hill I thought I spotted Foxie and the Doras high atop “Jamie’s Tower,” but she wasn’t immediately visible. Then reaching the other side of the structure, I could see her spying through the slats, enjoying her own world.



Gazing at her Dora dolls:


I stood watching Foxie, utterly mesmerized by how tiny she appeared against the backdrop of the stunning views surrounding her sanctuary home. Then for the first time that I’ve seen, Foxie began “phantom” nesting (nesting behavior in the absence of nesting material) with her dolls on the tower. Foxie doesn’t build nests as most chimps do, but we often see her (and sometimes Burrito) engaging in this behavior in a corner of the chimp house during which she claps and clasps her hands together while moving her arms up, across, and down, almost in a figure eight. Similar to movements chimps in the wild make as they bend in and fold branches around them when they create nests, as well as chimps in captivity who use blankets and other nesting material to build their nests. We don’t know a lot about this behavior, but as far as we know it’s only been observed in captive chimps and is not commonly seen.



We can’t know if any of the chimps would have been good mothers given their unnatural circumstances and the trauma they endured, but chances are had they not been deprived of the right to their natural lives, they would have been.





I’m not sure if Foxie was mothering her dolls or mothering herself through the comfort and joy they provide her, both, or neither. And it doesn’t matter. In whatever form it takes, Foxie is a good mother.


This tiny chimpanzee woman’s world has grown exponentially from what it was for the first 32 years of her life. But her heart and spirit can never be constrained by space.

We Like What We Like

Friday, September 23rd, 2016

Jamie spent her childhood living in a human home, and like all chimps who begin their lives in human homes, she quickly grew too strong and unmanageable. Jamie was sold to a research lab when she was about nine years old, and spent the next 22 years in hepatitis vaccine trials and possibly other invasive studies.

Jamie is one of the lucky ones. When she was 31, she was “retired” from research and moved to Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest. Chimpanzees who have lived with and around humans often pick up human habits and interests – Jamie files her nails, ties knots, and loves (and sometimes wears) boots. Jamie is different from the chimpanzees you see behaving like humans in movies and on TV; those chimps are trained – brutally – to perform and are often duct-taped into their clothes. At the sanctuary, Jamie chooses the objects she likes from the various enrichment items we provide each day and she does what she wants with them: nests with them, plays with them, ignores them, destroys them, or wears them.

A few days ago we had a visitor whose beautiful boots Jamie was clearly obsessed with. In a moment of overwhelming generosity, our visitor left Jamie the boots she came in with and walked out of the sanctuary barefoot. Jamie couldn’t resist giving her new boots a test run.



This is for the activists

Saturday, September 17th, 2016

Last night I was going through some old documents and newspaper articles and reading about the history of chimpanzees being retired to sanctuaries, and, in particular, activists who worked to get chimpanzees out of Buckshire, where the seven chimpanzees living at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest came from.

I will share more details at a later time, but one thing that really struck me was the extremely dedicated people who worked for years to help chimpanzees who they had never even met.

Working at and for a sanctuary can be hard work, but the reward is constant. There is a direct connection between the care that goes into sanctuary work and witnessing happy chimpanzees benefit from your labor. Most people who work in sanctuaries are also advocates, but our priority, as it should be, is to provide the very best life possible for those we care for at the sanctuary.

People who work full-time as activists and animal advocates don’t often have this direct reward. Their work, which often involves endlessly writing complaints and submitting FOIA requests, or working to change legislation, can be arduous. They know that there is wrong being done, and they work to create better outcomes, but it often takes years to see an outcome; all too often nothing comes of their hard work. Then, when there is a happy ending, they move on to the next animal or animals who are suffering.

But their work is precisely what has made the sanctuary life for the Cle Elum Seven, and for other animals in sanctuaries, possible.

Today I would like to publicly thank them and let them know that in my head and heart I thank them each time I think of the Cle Elum Seven chimpanzees, which is pretty much all the time.


Negra foraging for lunch:

Negra foraging


Foxie with Dora and friend:

Foxie with dolls


Jamie and Burrito patrolling together:

Jamie with Burrito


Burrito finishing up the patrol around the hill:

Burrito in the grass


Annie and Missy at the top of Twister:

Annie and Missy top of Twister


Jody in profile:

Jody profile

Happy Birthday, Angel!

Sunday, September 4th, 2016

Today’s day of sanctuary was sponsored by Althea and Ahmad Dani in honor of Negra’s daughter, Angel, on her birthday. Althea and Ahmad are wonderful friends to the Cle Elum 7 and take great care to learn about each one of the chimpanzees as the unique individuals they are, extending that to their children. They are great supporters of sanctuaries and Althea also volunteers at a local no-kill shelter, bringing joy, comfort and hope to the lives of many cats. Althea shared this message about today:

“Happy 31st Birthday, Angel! Angel is one of 3 children born to lovely Negra whose birthplace was a medical lab. Thankfully, in 2002 Angel and her brother Noah along with many other chimpanzees were rescued and now live in a sanctuary in Florida. They are safe, well cared for, loved and happy. Angel lives in a large family group with other chimpanzees that share her past. Angel is described as happy, feisty and flirty! She loves to eat and some of her favorite foods are fruit juice, primate chow and dried fruit. She loves to play outside in the sun and is usually the first one out of the door after a meal. Happy Birthday Precious Angel. You are every bit as lovely and courageous as your beautiful mother, Negra.” 

Althea and Ahmad, thank you so much for thinking of Angel today and for all that you do to bring comfort and joy to the lives of so many of our fellow animals. We so appreciate you taking the time to learn about each of the chimpanzees, their children, their histories and the many aspects of their day to day lives. They are fortunate to have you as friends.

Angel, we wish you the happiest, most joyful of birthdays filled with all that makes your heart happy! We are so very grateful that for all your days forward you will be cared for with love and respect for the special person you are, just as your beloved mother, Negra, will be.

Beautiful Angel (photo courtesy of Save the Chimps):

Angel from Save the Chimps

Beautiful Negra:


Learn more about Negra’s, and each of the chimpanzees’ histories, on our Eyes on Apes page!

Year One

Monday, June 13th, 2016

Today marks the eighth anniversary of the arrival of the Cle Elum Seven chimpanzees–Annie, Burrito, Foxie, Jamie, Jody, Missy, and Negra–to Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest and a celebration of Negra’s 43rd birthday.

It’s so hard for me to believe that eight years have already passed since the chimps’ arrival, and it’s even harder for me to believe that Negra is eight years older than she was when the truck full of chimpanzees pulled up the sanctuary driveway on June 13, 2008.

truck pulling up driveway with chimps

Negra in transport cage

Because this is such a nostalgic time for everyone who has been following the story of the chimpanzees at the sanctuary, and because so many people are relatively new followers, I thought it would be fun and informative to take this week to briefly chronicle some of the events of the last eight years, one year per day.

Of course I know you won’t want to miss the news of today’s big celebration, so we will be sharing that later today on the blog too. If you are subscribed to the e-newsletter, you will also be receiving an email today that celebrates Negra’s journey over the last eight years.

For now, here’s a glimpse of the first year of sanctuary for the Cle Elum Seven.


EVERYTHING was new to the chimpanzees.


From enrichment:



To the views out the windows:


To the changes in weather:


Rainstorm bravery

Missy standing in doorway


Let it snow!

Annie eating snow, Jamie and Negra in doorway


And the chimpanzees were new to us humans, too. Though we had met them at Buckshire before they came to the sanctuary, we didn’t have the chance to really get to know them until we spent time with them in their new home. We started to learn about their personalities and their likes and dislikes pretty quickly.

Here is one observation about Jamie and her intelligence a few days after the chimps arrived:

Learning about Jamie


And of course the humans, and Foxie herself, discovered her lasting love of troll dolls during her first year of sanctuary, leading us to ask supporters for more troll dolls. None of us knew then how big her collection would become!

Foxie with Troll and night time package


Foxie’s first troll doll:

Foxie and Trixie


Foxie demonstrating that troll dolls suit her fun-loving personality:



We were delighted to discover Burrito’s out-of-this-world food-squeaking:


Touched by Annie’s love of Missy:

Annie grooming Missy

Missy and Annie with big playfaces

Missy and Annie with big playfaces


And thrilled with Jody’s ability to relax:

Jody on Valentine's Day, just holding her feet



Every day of the chimps’ first year in sanctuary was an incredible gift.

I’m not going to lie–we had some tough times as an organization as we were just getting our footing. There were stressful moments, to be sure, but it was so inspiring to have the opportunity to watch the chimpanzees learn more about their new home and themselves. And it was incredible to connect with other people who wanted to be a part of giving them that chance. This blog has played a big role in that process, and I’m grateful to everyone who has read it in the past and is reading it right now. Thank you!

It’s pretty thrilling to think that if you stick around you will also be a part of providing so many “firsts” for more chimpanzees who will be coming to Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest in the future.


Intangible expansions

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

I’d like to say that I no longer think of the decades the chimpanzees spent living as biomedical research subjects in open slat cages the size of a bathroom stall, the last couple of years which were in a windowless basement. But I do. I’d like to forget the images of my friends’ familiar eyes peering out from between the bars that their familiar hands clung to. But I can’t. I wish I couldn’t picture them having spent their days – their years – with no enrichment, nothing to nest with, no room to rip and run and climb, unable to engage in natural chimpanzee behaviors and family relationships, or just be free to be themselves, however that looked. But these thoughts, and most importantly the chimps’ histories, are inversely proportional to the growth and expansion they demonstrate with each passing day, season, and year.

We are fast approaching the anniversary of the chimpanzees’ arrival to their sanctuary home eight years ago, on June 13th. Eight years! And yet every single time I see them foraging on the hill, climbing new structures and taking in unobstructed views, pushing their own comfort levels with such courage, grace and dignity, it takes my breath away. No matter how many times I see all these moments in each of their lives, it never for one second feels less than wondrous and breathtaking.

And this morning, one of now countless particularly beautiful mornings the chimpanzees have had here, was no different. As they foraged for breakfast al fresco on Young’s Hill, as they traversed seemingly every inch of every structure, their hair shining in the sun and blowing in the breeze, moving as a family, each step through the electrifying green grass another step further from their histories, my friends’ familiar eyes cast to the expanse of sky and valley and mountain beyond, I watched, my heart on tiptoe.





Burrito and Jamie:




Foxie and Annie:


Foxie and France Dora:






Annie and Missy:




Jamie taking in her new viewpoint from the new structure, Twister:




And then moving on to check out the view from Jamie’s Tower:


web_jamie_head_peeking_over_ her_tower_kd_IMG_2409


And not to worry, Jody and Negra were both at the far reaches of Young’s Hill foraging for breakfast with a side of wild greens right along with their family, but unfortunately my photos of those two beautiful ladies didn’t turn out.